Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ethanol: just in time for a global food crisis

It's been a while but there's been some exciting new developments on the ethanol front. Or as we like to refer to it: the absolute worst energy idea ever.

Who's up for some food riots and sky-rocketing food prices?

World wheat and maize prices have risen 57%, rice 45% and sugar 55% over the last six months and soybeans are at their highest price for 16 months.

UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, says a combination of environmental degradation, urbanisation and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors for biofuels is squeezing land suitable for agriculture.

"Worldwide, 5m to 10m hectares of agricultural land are being lost annually due to severe degradation and another 19.5m are lost for industrial uses and urbanisation," he says in a new report.

"But the pressure on land resulting from these factors has been boosted in recent years by policies favouring large-scale industrial plantations.

"According to the World Bank, more than one-third of large-scale land acquisitions are intended to produce agrofuels."

(italics, ours)

Sure, there are many factors that go into what determines the price of food but explain to us how taking arable land out of food production helps increase the world food supply?

And on the environmental front, ethanol has proven itself to be so green and wonderful for the environment, this is what the EPA has to say about some key pollutants:

At the same time, other vehicle emissions may increase as a result of greater renewable fuel use. Nationwide, EPA estimates an increase in total emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides (VOC + NOx) between 41,000 and 83,000 tons. However, the effects will vary significantly by region. Areas that already are using ethanol will experience little or no change in emissions or air quality. However, those areas that experience a substantial increase in ethanol may see an increase in VOC emissions between 4 and 5 percent and an increase in NOx emissions between 6 and 7 percent from gasoline powered vehicles and equipment.

This comes precisely at the time that the government is cracking down on both Volatile Organic Compounds and Nitrogen-Oxides.

So, armed with this knowledge, what do you think the feds do as Big Ethanol is sitting on a glut of its snake oil? Of course...

For months, administration officials have been hinting that the EPA would approve the ethanol industry’s request for an increase in blend volumes. The industry desperately needs a bailout, because it has built far too many distilleries over the past few years. As Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, explained, “We have lots of gallons of ethanol chasing too few gallons of gasoline.”

And sure enough, back on October 13th, the EPA granted Big Ethanol its wish when it approved an increase in the amount of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent. 2/3rds more of a corrosive, hydrophilic, low-heat content element will now be allowed to be blended into our fuel.

This move comes on top of the reality of an already highly-fractured market where refineries in this country produce 45 different blends of gasoline and multiple blends of diesel. The cost of managing this hydra (different fuel pumps, different underground storage tanks) will simply be passed along to the consumer.

There's actually more breaking news that we will share later but we're running long here. When the tingle wears off, go on over to our blog buddy Harrison's place, who, like us, is very excited for the prospects of ethanol.

More expensive, drives up the cost of food, not good for the environment, heavily subsidized and thus highly politicized... what's not to love about ethanol?


B-Daddy said...

Burning food in our car engines, wrecking the engines, causing starvation, doing nothing about pollution. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

According a NatGeo article, the Greens were upset with ethanol from corn because it takes more energy to plant, cultivate and harvest the corn and then convert it than there is energy in the ethanol. They said that only ethanol from switchgrass makes sense as it grows on land where food crops can not grow and requires very little energy to grow and harvest. Dad

Dean said...

Yep. The Brazilians are doing it. There are indeed some viable agra-fuels out there but corn aint one of them.

Harrison said...

Cheers for the link.

Road Dawg said...

food for thought.. but pissing me off. Wish I had someone to vote for